The 3 Essential Business Skills Every Gym Owner Must Have

Podcast (9)

Chris Cooper (00:00): Building a good gym requires strategy, tactics, and skills. Strategies are your overarching plans, like your business plan. Tactics are what you’re going to do to get there, like an email list, and skills are what make you good at doing that stuff long term. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And if you want to talk more about strategies, tactics, and skills, please go to Join that free group, and we talk about this stuff in there every day. Now, in our mentorship practice, we give gym owners step-by-step tactics to grow, and then we build long-term strategies to help them act on those tactics. But we also teach entrepreneurial skills, and here’s why: Skills have compounding value.

(00:46): They become more valuable over time because, first, a little bit of each skill is helpful, but a high skill level pays off even more. You can get better, and that will help you. Second, nobody can copy your skills. They’re an unassailable advantage. Third, the government can’t tax you on skills. Fourth, you don’t lose skills. If one business fails, then these skills will help you build the next business even faster. Fifth, they can be improved regardless of outcome, so if you win, you learn a lesson, and if you lose, you learn a lesson that builds your skills. Sixth, they multiply your other investments. And seventh, the time and effort invested to learning skills has lifelong returns.

(01:30): The first skill that every gym owner needs is focus. Focus is a skill that will multiply your return on everything that you do to grow your business. The gym owners who get the best ROI on our mentorship program, for instance, often tell me, “I just did what my mentor told me to do.” And that’s because they do one thing at a time, and they don’t get distracted by anything else. And the owners who get the lowest ROI—which is still good—they’ll say, “Oh, I’m just so busy to do the work; I need more time.” But it’s really because they’re distracted by social media, Facebook groups, their staff listening to five podcasts every week and two audio books, and they just can’t dedicate 30 uninterrupted minutes to doing the work that will actually grow the gym. Now, of course, the top performers and the lowest performers have the same amount of work, but the top earners have the skill of focus, and that’s the difference maker.

(02:25): Now, usually these highly focused people have a family, they own their business, of course, and they also train hard. The most focused sometimes even have multiple fields of play, which are all important enough to give undivided focus for certain periods at a time. They’re not just running a business, but they’re also raising their kids or their pets, and they might be doing triathlons first, right? But they’re not letting one thing distract from the other. They’re focusing entirely on one thing and then moving to focusing entirely on another. Now, some clients—some gym owners—don’t have strong focus skills, but they can force a deep focus when it’s required. These are people like me who do their best work right before a deadline. These are people who can be really successful in our RampUp program because of the high accountability, but they’ll never be successful just by reading books or listening to podcasts. They won’t benefit from a group coaching program unless they’re in it for a very long time because it’s hard for them to pick out the pearls. They’re a bit slower than that first group who has intense focus, but they’re going to get there.

(03:33): Now, other gym owners don’t have any focus skills, and they’re overwhelmed, and they’re stressed all the time. In most cases, one-on-one mentorship is their only hope. In these cases, the mentor has to do really frequent touch points—almost daily. Or they can make appointments with themself, as the gym owner, and do the work and show their mentor when they have these focus blocks planned. These clients might benefit, even, from scheduled open office hours where they just show up and work, but they won’t benefit from getting a new task or a new idea every single month. They won’t benefit from reading 50 books a year. The great news here is that focus isn’t a gift you inherit. It’s a skill that you build, and when you build it, that compounds your efforts in everything else you do.

(04:18): Start by getting an office with a door that closes. Spend at least one hour there every day. Leave your phone outside that door. Here’s my rule to force focus. Every day, I do one thing to grow my business before I do anything else. It’s the only way that I can dedicate my focus to growing my business. If I wait until I’m at work, I will lose my focus on the drive there—the phone will ring, or I’ll hear a podcast, or I’ll ruminate on stuff, and I’ll build this mental checklist of urgent tasks that need to be done. In the next part of this podcast, I’m going to share the next skill, which is gain thinking, and how to get it. But the real secret to success as a gym owner is building and keeping momentum, okay? You’re going to have setbacks. You can’t avoid them. The key is to make those setbacks happen less often and have less effect.

(05:07): Imagine that you’re trying to walk up the road, and you keep taking a small step forward and then a small step backward, and you do this over and over and over until you’re tired, but you haven’t gotten anywhere, and you know it. But then one day, you take two steps forward and then one backward. Well, that’s much better. You’re getting somewhere. You’re not going fast, and you’re probably still frustrated that you’re not going faster, but you’re getting closer. And then a few days later, you’re able to take three steps forward before taking one back again, and then four steps forward and one step back, and then five steps forward—and so on and so on. This is what building momentum means. In business, it’s more important to build and keep momentum than to do any one momentous thing. When I look at a gym owner’s progress over the last year or last two years, and I see a lot of ups and downs—or in other words, one step forward, one step back—I know that they’re working hard.

(06:07): I know that they’re trying new things, but I also know they’re not going to grow because they don’t have momentum. So, here’s how to fix it. Our second skill is momentum, and the way that you fix that is you measure backward. Now, this sounds counterintuitive, but you have to measure how far you’ve come instead of how far you have left to go. Momentum requires energy. You create energy for yourself when you have little wins in your business. You take one step forward, and you feel great, and repeated success steps forward. That creates momentum. In his book “The Gap and The Gain,” Dan Sullivan gives the advice to focus on the gain; look back at your progress instead of looking forward at where you want to be or where everybody else is. He calls this measuring backward, not forward, which means comparing your current position against your former position instead of your ideal position someday.

(07:05): Basically, you count your wins. Here’s how I do it: Every night before I go to sleep, I ask myself, “What did I do today to grow my business?” And then I think back through the day and hopefully find something that actually grew my business. It doesn’t have to be a momentous thing—it can be one blog post or one email to some former clients or one NSI—but it has to grow my business in a measurable way. It doesn’t have to be momentous; it just has to preserve my momentum. Showing up in coaching, showing up and delivering, returning phone calls, returning emails—that doesn’t grow my business; that’s playing defense. When something works, and this is part two of building momentum, the first step is gain thinking—counting backward. The second thing is when something works, keep doing it until it stops working, not just until you’re bored with it.

(07:55): We’re all drawn to new ideas, but we have limited bandwidth; so, when we find a new idea, we usually have to stop doing something we’re currently doing and start doing the new thing instead. This “one and done” thinking is what creates the ups and downs in your revenue and the feeling of one step forward, one step back in your head. For example, let’s say you came to the summit last year, and you learned about doing sell by chat on Instagram. You go home, and you text 300 people the next day. Nine of those people book an appointment, and then you sell five people on your gym. Now that’s pretty great for two hours work, right? You should probably do that every month, every week, and then even every day. Instead, you also heard something about setting up your CRM.

(08:41): So, the next week you set up your CRM, and the third week you start using AI to write blog posts. And then the fourth week, you start a podcast, and three months later, you haven’t done any more sell by chat on Instagram, even though you know it worked. One and done—you quit doing the thing that was working. Even if the new idea works, there’s always a ramp up period. So, you stop doing the thing that was working the sell by chat on Instagram, and your revenue dips before the new thing takes its place. Now, the next thing that you can do to maintain momentum is delegate. Maybe you started doing goal reviews, and you started getting some referrals. You got better at them; you were building some momentum, but you don’t really like doing them. So, you forget to book 20 goal reviews for next month, or maybe you try to automate them by sending out emails instead.

(09:30): You water the process down until it stops working, and then you stop getting referrals. You think, “Oh, they only work for a little while.” When in truth, you only work them for a little while, and this is what your staff is for. We teach gym owners to systemize, optimize, and automate the stuff they don’t like. So, after you’ve done something once and it’s worked, write it down. Then teach it to somebody else, then watch them do it, and then tweak the system to make it better. Evaluate them, mentor them, right? This is what a mentor does. And then delegate the task or automate it—it’s the same thing; the word’s just different. If you’re talking about humans or robots, the most important force in business is momentum. All the books that you read about the “1% Rule” and building habits and incremental gains—they’re really all just about momentum. Gain thinking creates momentum by having you focus on your wins every day. If you see your progress, you’ll keep going. Success creates momentum, so the second skill that entrepreneurs need to build is gain thinking because it creates momentum.

(10:34): Now, I’m going to tell you about the hardest skill of all for entrepreneurs to build, and that’s virtuosity. That means keep it simple. That’s how you maintain focus, how you build momentum, and how you grow your business. Virtuosity is doing the simple stuff really well over and over with consistency and excellence. In other words, master the basics yourself, systemize them for your staff, optimize outcomes over time, but do the actions forever. In other words, get better at them, but don’t stop. Do not stop when you’re confronted by a challenge. Don’t stop when you’re confronted by boredom. Don’t stop when you’re confronted by novelty. Virtuosity is a very tough skill to master.

(11:19): For example, high level performers in golf work on their basic swing for years, but newcomers to golf just go out and buy new clubs. New basketball players focus more on their shoes than on their dribbling. Cyclists buy lighter bikes instead of spending another five hours per week in the saddle. Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, used the gymnastics definition of virtuosity, which is “performing the common uncommonly well.” For example, a gym owner should work to master their skill in selling their program before they attempt to flood their gym with leads through marketing. But the siren song that they see on Facebook and Instagram of “leads, leads, leads” is strong enough to distract most of them from getting good at sales.

(12:04): Likewise, a gym owner should develop their staff to make them all “eight out of tens” as coaches instead of employing a few “three out of tens” and one “nine out of 10.” This includes evaluations and feedback, which are uncomfortable processes that many gym owners forget or ignore. Entrepreneurs in any service business—not just gyms—should develop the skill of asking for referrals, nurturing leads, and creating content before they start thinking about a TikTok account, but most lack the discipline to master the basics because the lure of novelty is so strong. And hey, I’m one of them. One of the challenges of mastering the basics is that it gets boring. Who wants to do another sales role-play session when they could shoot an Instagram reel or record a new podcast? It’s tempting to be the first to try and talk about a new idea, to be an early adopter, or to tell your friends how to do the new thing, but this is the curse of the novice. This is the hallmark of gyms that don’t grow.

(13:00): They’re always doing the new thing instead of consistently executing on the stuff that works. I remember this letter to coaches that Glassman wrote, and he said, “There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether it’s learning to play the violin or write poetry or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. This compulsion is the novice’s curse—the rush to originality and risk.” That was Glassman. He went on to describe the novice’s curse, and he said that it manifested as excessive adornment or silly creativity or weak fundamentals and, ultimately, a market lack of virtuosity and delayed mastery. Hey, I know. I remember the horrible muscle ups that I used to do just so that I could say I did a muscle up instead of working on like false grip ring pullups.

(13:59): And this is equally true in business, focusing on building a Facebook ads campaign before you have a consistent sales process means a lot of wasted time on cold leads, poor conversion, and burnout. And worse, it’s hard to learn to be a better salesperson if your pitch is different every time because the entrepreneur can’t see what’s working with clarity. You don’t have that consistency built in. So, what are the basics that every gym owner should master? Reading their profit and loss statement, getting client referrals, consistent delivery of their service by their staff, selling their product, communicating with their clients, evaluating their staff, creating content, and, you know, there are a few more, but you should focus on getting good at those first. That’s virtuosity. Now, it’s important to note that mastery of any of those that I just said is nearly impossible, but most entrepreneurs can grow their business faster by getting good at those fundamentals than by adding any new strategy or tactic.

(15:00): For example, every gym owner should know how to read a profit and loss statement—a P&L. Even basic familiarity will help the gym owner understand how their business is doing. But the pursuit of mastery, which involves asking questions of your bookkeeper, thinking about how you classify expenses and revenues, identifying opportunities for growth, putting in lots of reps, reading P&Ls—that will grow your business faster than searching for new trends on social media. The P&L should create focus for a business owner, which is the first step to growth. Here’s another example: A gym owner who can improve their close rate by 10% will grow their business faster than an owner who doubles their ad spend because ads take time to ramp up, time to optimize, and they require constant monitoring. And then when they begin to slow down, they have to be retooled, and the process begins again.

(15:54): But sales is different. Performing better with every lead will multiply the value of all future advertising. Most entrepreneurs skip from platform to platform. They try Facebook, they try Instagram, TikTok, whatever. They make little investments in each, and then they move on to the next when the ads don’t work. Instead, they should be improving their sales process so that they can get and keep the clients that they do get from these platforms. The basics never go away. Mastering them is more important than learning something new 99% of the time. But the pull of novelty is very strong. Our job as coaches and mentors is to teach the basics and then revisit them with the entrepreneurs that we serve. Of course, we can’t ignore the fun new stuff, but novelty must always be balanced with the pursuit of virtuosity and the fundamentals. So, this week I’m walking you through three skills that every gym owner should have: focus, gain thinking, and virtuosity.

(16:55): There are more—like patience and abundance mindset and evidence-based decision making and healthy skepticism and the practice mindset and more. We teach these in our mentorship program even if we don’t always call them out. What’s that mean? Well, skills compound, you can’t be taxed on them. You can’t lose them in a breakup. Your landlord can’t increase your rent as you get them. Building skills is really what makes you a good entrepreneur for life. And the best way to build your skills is to work with a mentor to practice focus and gain thinking, build momentum, and stay true to being virtuous about the virtuosity element of your business. Keep it simple. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” If you want to talk more about entrepreneurial skills, go to That’s our free group where we talk about this stuff all the time, and you can ask questions of me and my team.

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One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.